November 2007 Archives

The Bush Bard and Official Odes

Those who are still able to read and appreciate poetry and verse are meeting to celebrate the placing of a tablet in Westminster Abbey to the memory of Adam Lindsay Gordon. An Australian poet has yet to win a place there. Gordon was an English poet who gained the inspiration for his best work in his homeland, and who wrote as if his life in Australia were that of an exile. His popularity is probably due to his chivalrous sportsmanship, his galloping verses, his somewhat gloomy sentimentalism and the "froth and bubble" type of wisdom that gets applause almost anywhere. Australia's own poets are comparatively neglected. Henry Lawson -- who touched poetic heights above Gordon and occasionally descended to deeper depths of doggerel -- is honored by a few loyal societies, and his best lines and thoughts gradually enter into common expression. He was the poet of the bush humanity rather than of nature. His rebellious heart was moved by a great human sympathy. Another and greater Australian poet -- Kendall, whose lyrics of nature flow with a Tennysonian facility and felicity and compare occasionally with those of Shelley -- is relatively neglected.

The anniversary of Kendall's birthday April 18, 1841 -- was not observed. For every portrait of him in our little private libraries there are fifty of Gordon, the English singer, and twenty of Lawson. He was Australian first and last, although influenced by the culture of the older lands. Thomas Kendall, a Lincolnshire schoolmaster, came to Sydney in 1809. His adventurous son, Basil, the poet's father, was probably born there or in New Zealand, where Thomas spent a few years. The poet himself was born in a primitive cottage near the agricultural village of Milton, on the New South Wales south coast. The Kendalls were men of education and wide reading. On the south coast, and on the north also, amongst the hill forests and the deep, cool glens, the music of nature haunted Henry Kendall "as the wind a tree." In the lonely, beautiful places he drew syllables from "unfooted dells and secret hollows dear to noontide dew" -- "words and music caught from glen and height and lucid colors born of woodland light."

The discussion of Centenary odes and lyrics, yet to be, gives additional interest to Kendall's work when he, too, attempted the terrible task of writing to order. His first essay in this kind of versification was on the occasion of the Sydney Exhibition of the early eighties, when he was the author of the prize ode. The poem is an enraptured survey of Australian exploration and colonisation from the earliest days up to the occasion by which it was suggested. The stilted heroics and the free citation of mythological characters and analogies suggest Kendall wrote with a grim unflinching purpose. There are many fine lines; Kendall never entirely failed. Before a concluding metrical invocation, resonant and sincere, he glorifies his native land.

"Her crown will shine beside the crown of kings
Who shape the seasons, rule the course of things;
The fame of her across the years to be
Will spread like light on a surpassing sea;
And graced with glory, girt with power august,
Her life will last till all things turn to dust."
Not long afterwards Kendall wrote a series of cantos for the opening of the Melbourne International Exhibition. These were written for music, and are notable for a bigger share of the poet's own naturalness--

"Dressed is the beautiful city -- the spires of it
Burn in the firmament stately and still;
Forest has vanished -- the wood and lyres of it,
Lute sof the sea-wind and harps of the hill.
This is the region and here is the bay by it,
Collins, the deathless, beheld in a dream;
Flinders and Fawkner, our forefathers grey, by it
Paused in the hush of a season supreme."
The poem closes with a deep reverence characteristic of the writer -

"To Thee be the glory, All-Bountiful Giver!
The song that we sing is an anthem of Thee,
Whose blessing is shed on thy people for ever,
Whose love is like beautiful light on the sea.
Behold, with high sense of Thy mercy unsleeping,
We come to Thee, kneel to Thee, praise Thee and pray,
O Lord, in whose hand is the strength that is keeping
The storm from the wave and the night from the day!"
With slight verbal amendments to suit the occasion and dates, this poem might be recommended to musical composers and the Centenary Committee. There is a beauty of words, thought and imagery in Kendall which can be made an infinitely greater Australian influence. The best of all are the lyrics of nature, some of which have happily found their way into the schoolbooks. They throb with the pulse of the Australian bushland; they limn its beauties with crystal clearness; they are alive with melody. "Bell-Birds," "September in Australia," "After Many Days," "Illa Creek," "Araluen," "Coogee," and a dozen others ought to be "familiar in our mouths as household words."

Our first lyrical poet was not entirely engrossed with the beauty and song of his native woodland. Although his description of the Melbourne Cup does not suggest that the race was run at a thrilling speed, few verses travel faster or with a more energetic lilt than the description of the thirst-maddened beasts "On a Cattle Track." The poet's gentle soul was once moved to write an Australian war-song. It calls upon Australians to "whet the swords you have in keeping; Forward, stand to do or die," but it is not poetry, and as for the swords we have in keeping, it is hardly accurate.

As the literary sense of Australia becomes more discriminating Kendall will rise to a place still higher in the minds of students and readers. If there be a place for another club, it might be formed to discuss the great New South Welshman and other Australian poets of nature who have felt the Kendall influence.

First published as an editorial in The Herald, 5 May 1934

The Summer Read

Over the past week or so, and presumably over the next few weeks, I've been listing holiday reading suggestions from various sources: authors, newspapers, and magazines. The State Library of Victoria also puts out their recommended summer reading list under a program they title, aptly, The Summer Read. All books are written by Victorians, or set in Victoria.

The books listed are:

Company by Max Barry
Ron McCoy's Sea of Diamonds by Gregory Day
The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser
Chain of Evidence by Garry Disher
The Beginner's Guide to Winning the Nobel Prize by Peter Doherty
Broken by Isla Evans
Delinquent Angel by Diana Georgeff
Well Done, Those Men by Barry Heard
In My Skin by Kate Holden
Diamond Dove by Adrian Hyland
Dark Roots by Cate Kennedy
Spiral Road by Adib Khan
The Unexpected Elements of Love by Kate Legge
Cricket Kings by William McInnes
Landscape of Farewell by Alex Miller
Dodging the Bull by Paul Mitchell
Patriot Act by James Phelan
El Dorado by Dorothy Porter
Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung
Hoi Polloi by Craig Sherborne

In addition to the list, the library has included the opportunity for readers to comment on their reading, and to vote on their favourite of the books.

And in a more recent bit of news, the Library will be interviewing a number of the authors on the list, and placing those interviews on YouTube. The first interview was with Garry Disher and is available here: Part 1 and Part 2.

[Update: I previously said that the books were all written by Victorians AND set in Victoria. The "AND" should have been an "OR", so I've fixed it.]

Australian Books to Film #33 - Monkey's Mask

The Monkey's Mask 2000
Directed by Samantha Lang
Screenplay by Anne Kennedy, from the novel by Dorothy Porter
Featuring Susie Porter, Kelly McGillis, Marton Csokas, and Abbie Cornish

Best Books of the Year 2007 #5 - "The Telegraph"

"The Telegraph" out of the UK has produced its lists for the annual Best Books event. Some of the category links didn't work for me, so there might be some Australian books missing.

Australian entry on the lists: Deborah Robertson's Careless (Sceptre, £12.99, T £11.99) is a book I am still thinking about. It shows what happens when the bond of care and responsibility between a mother and child is inverted, so that the child becomes her mother's carer. When circumstances demand it, eight year-old Pearl is capable of delivering: "the Madonna of smiles; serene and consoling, a smile so at odds with her own true feelings that only a grown woman should have been capable of it". Set in Australia, paced like a thriller, this is an entrancing novel that deserves to be more widely known.

Charlotte Wood Profile

Charlotte Wood was shortlisted for the 2005 Miles Franklin award for her second novel, The Submerged Cathedral. Her third, The Children, has just been published and she is interviewed in "the Age" by Jane Sullivan:

For a long time she thought she could not be a writer because she didn't have a story to tell: "The idea you could actually discover what to say by doing it was so liberating for me." So she began "writing properly" in her late 20s, supporting herself with journalism and other jobs.

"I feel the life I have now is the life I've always wanted. It kind of amazes me I have got it. I can write, and I'm allowed to keep doing it." Writing a novel, she once said, is "about stepping inside that moment when your voice goes wobbly and you don't know why, and you don't want to know why, because it scares you".

No Dead Ones Here

Sarah Weinman, on the "Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind" weblog, points us to an article in "New York Magazine" titled "A World of Crime". Subtitled "Need an escape this winter? Try these. A sleuth-fiction travel guide." There are 10 books listed. Guess which continent missed out?

Weekend Round-Up 2007 #40

The Age

It's poetry time of year in "The Age" this week with Lyn McCredden, associate professor of literary studies at Deakin University, reviewing the two major annual Australian poetry collections: The Best Australian Poetry 2007 edited by John Tranter (University of Queensland Press) and The Best Australian Poems 2007 edited by Peter Rose (Black Inc): "The editors of these two valuable anthologies are unapologetic cultural champions of poetry and Australian literary culture generally. John Tranter and Peter Rose, both fine poets and critics, are more than qualified to present their personal choices from the best poetry published in journals and newspapers this year, and their anthologies are extremely interesting and quite different from each other...Only one poem (S.K. Kelen's entrancing 'Dance') appears in both, though there are 17 poets who overlap. Tranter's is the briefer, pithier collection, with 40 poems; Rose's contains 66...Poetry is the great cultural form -- language at its most inquisitorial, self-questioning and sensuous -- but it is also poetry that points to the limits of poetry...Poets may claim to be little gods, their vigour in their heads, but in a multitude of ways their art brings them to acknowledge the littleness of their divinity, the bounds of their art. This dance of limits is what poetry pre-eminently achieves."

Any novel by Christopher Koch is a major literary event in this country, though Michael Williams doesn't think his latest, The Memory Room, quite hits the heights that it might have: "Few Australian novelists have been so attuned to the nuances of Australians abroad in Asia, or would be so well placed to chronicle the shortcomings of public service and the limits of those twin concerns of the spy novel: idealism and compromise...Fans of Koch's earlier work won't be disappointed, but somehow The Memory Room never quite amounts to anything much. It just doesn't find the author hitting the high notes that he's previously shown himself capable of, contenting itself with a mediation on a group of characters who never fully come alive...The Memory Room glitters in the sun, even if the junction at which these characters meet, the depiction of the local wrongs that drive them together and apart, feels largely empty."

The Australian

Jack Hibberd looks at the other major Australian fiction release in recent times, Landscape of Farewell by Alex Miller: "On the evidence of Landscape of Farewell, Alex Miller is a sombre and sober author whose prose interlocks adroitly with his lugubrious thematic concerns. Not for him the sceptical fabrications and comic diversities of modernism or the antic relativities of postmodernism. Alex is no smart alec...Landscape of Farewell is laced and interlarded with flashbacks, dreams, prescient Jungian premonitions and binary selves, some of which knit past with present, place with place."

Last year Will Elliott won the ABC Fiction Award for The Pilo Family Circus. This year it was Luck in the Greater West by Damian McDonald which is reviewed by Justine Ettler: "Set in Sydney's western suburbs, this is realist entertainment at its most gritty, featuring characters who range from the vaguely unappealing (drug dealers and pregnant teens) to the outright detestable: hate-filled, Lebanese Muslim gang rapists...Curiously, Andrew Hutchinson's debut novel Rohypnol, which depicts young male perpetrators of date rape, won last year's Victorian Premier's Literary Awards prize for an unpublished manuscript by an emerging Victorian writer. It's quite a coincidence that two young male Australian authors are making their names by writing contentious novels depicting the rape of women by men...In McDonald's case, there is a moral to the story that suggests artistic integrity: when it comes to immigration, assimilation is the best policy." Which implies that Hutchinson's doesn't.

The Sydney Morning Herald

I've said in the past that the annual "Best Australian Essays" from Black Inc is the best type of summer reading: short pieces by a number of different authors on a number of different topics; if you don't like one piece, chances are you'll like the next, and you may just discover a new, fresh voice. This year's edition, 2007, is edited for the second time by Drusilla Modjeska, and Andrew Reimer seems to feel the same way about it as I do: "For her second go at editing this annual anthology, Drusilla Modjeska has assembled 27 essays that make for varied and absorbing reading. As one would expect, many of the familiar names are here...One of the most attractive features of this collection is Modjeska's careful, one might say cunning, arrangement of these contributions. Reading anthologies from cover to cover can be a disconcerting experience -- changing gears, so to speak, every 10 pages or so. By contrast, many of the essays in this volume are grouped in ways that establish telling connections and echoes and also provide illuminating disjunctions at times."

2008 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award [Updated]

A couple of weeks back I posted about the Australian novels that had been included on the longlist of works for the 2008 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. At that time I identified 6 novels - out of the 137 nominated - as Australian. Over the weekend, the Undercover blog, associated with "The Sydney Morning Herald", corrected that entry, and increased the number to 9.

Here is the final Australian list of novels:
Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey
Tuvalu by Andrew O'Connor *
The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan
The Sweet and Simple Kind by Yasmine Gooneratne *
Dreams of Speaking by Gail Jones
The Travel Writer by Simone Lazaroo *
Underground by Andrew McGahan
Careless by Deborah Robertson
Carpentaria by Alexis Wright

The ones I missed previously are marked with a *.

[Further update: as has been pointed out in the comments on this posting, the original notification of this update came from Susan Wyndham's Undercover blog, rather than the more general "Entertainment" blog.]

Author Recommendations 2007 #2 - The Observer

Peter Carey picks the same book for "The Observer" as he did for "The Guardian": too busy writing his next novel obviously.

The others:

MJ Hyland
Callisto (Atlantic) by Torsten Krol. Although it's sometimes flawed, I admire almost everything about it. It's a well-made story, often funny, often suspenseful, a wonderfully
strange tale about, among other things, a young, gormless man who lands in a Guantanamo Bay-style prison for no sane or good reason. Callisto is a shrewd satire on the 'war on terror'; a subtle and moving account of a nationalistic paranoia induced by unexamined fear and phobia. The lack of attention it has received says something grim about the sheep-like nature of the making and following of literary trends

Michael Ondaatje
I came to it late but the best book I read this year was a novel by JM Coetzee. The Master of Petersburg (Vintage) is an overpowering work about grief -- involving Dostoyevsky and the death of his stepson -- that gradually turns into a novel about revolution and political paranoia. This is a world of dark hallways and basements and whispers and fear, starkly written and just about flawless.

Australian Bookcovers #91 - The Tax Inspector by Peter Carey


The Tax Inspector by Peter Carey, 1991
(Faber and Faber 1991 edition)

Author Recommendations 2007 #1 - Guardian Review

On the other side of the ledger from "Best Books of the Year" - the evil twin if you prefer - is the list of authors' recommendations. First one of the year that I've seen is from the "Guardian Review".

Peter Carey Remember the Christmases before Thatcher and Reagan? Remember when the free market was still seen as theology, not economics? Remember when Milton Friedman was generally regarded as a dangerous lunatic? So much weird shit has happened since then that a Keynesian writer, in favour of a mixed economy, can now be seen as a dangerous radical, even as a Marxist! Welcome to our confused, overwrought Christmas present, the year of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine (Allen Lane). It has the power to make us change the way in which we see exactly how Friedman and his Chicago boys created a new orthodoxy in which Chile, Iraq, New Orleans and South Africa -- that is the short list -- have been grasped as opportunities to create that mythical perfect place, that tabula rasa, where the free market can finally exist. If you know people who still believe that free markets and democracy walk hand in hand, give them this for Christmas. This is past, present and future all in one.

Colm Tóibín Tim Winton's Breath (Picador, May), a coming-of-age novel set in the world of surfing in western Australia, is his best to date. It is written with great tenderness and sympathy and rhythmic energy, and structured with immense skill.

Best Books of the Year 2007 #4 - "The New York Times"

"The New York Times" always lists 100 Notable Books of the Year. The only Australian on the list: Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts by Clive James

The Bloke in Politics

If you've any interest in Australian politics you would have seen that a Federal election was held in this country over the weekend. That election resulted in the sitting Coalition government being over-thrown by the Opposition Labor Party. The government lost office, the Prime Minister lost his seat, and then the Liberal Party's heir-apparent, Peter Costello, lost his nerve and decided not to run for leader of his party. He cited a desire to spend more time with his family, and then, in a rare moment, handed the podium over to his wife Tanya, who explained her feelings by quoting a few lines from C.J. Dennis' The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke.

Yeh live, yeh love, yeh learn; an' when yeh come
To square the ledger in some thortful hour,
The everlastin' answer to the sum
Must allus be, "Where's sense in gittin' sour?"
Livin' an' lovin' -- so life mooches on.
Which seemed like a pretty fair way to explain it all.

Profile of Michelle de Kretser

As her latest novel, The Lost Dog, is published, Michelle de Kretser is href="">profiled in "The Sydney Morning Herald" by Fiona Gruber. [This is a reprint of the same profile in "The Age" last week. Seems I missed that one.]

Alongside the exploration of a man's relationship with his dog, a more general animality pervades the novel, from the musky aroma of its main female character, the mysterious artist Nellie Zhang, to the daily confrontation old and arthritic Iris de Souza has with her own excrement. It is, in part, a commentary on the sanitised world in which we live, where the old, the sick and the imperfect are made to feel useless, invisible.

"We have an obsession with bodies in the West but there is a denial of bodily-ness," de Kretser argues, saying the obsession with fitness and control of appetites is unsensual. Our animality is something we have become disgusted by, she says. Perfect teeth, straight strong limbs and glowing skin form the template that separates the Western physical orthodoxy from a more diverse cast in less affluent countries.

Founders of Our Literature: Simpson Newland

Years ago, a short, bearded man used to stand up in the House of Assembly in Adelaide, and quietly but fervently speak on two great projects that lay near his heart. These were the north-south railway, and the development of the Murray River. The man was Simpson Newland, a great pioneer and the author of what has now deservedly become an Australian classic novel, "Paving the Way".

Those Australians who have not yet read "Paving the Way" are urged to do so. It may not be great literature. Many may see faults in the rather stilted Victorian style, which, however, was common to the literature of the period. But sincerity and truth make a halo for every word of it and reflect the nature of the man who wrote it.

Newland wrote the book fairly late in life. It was first published in 1893 and the author arrived in South Australia in 1839 at the age of four. His early life was spent in pioneering, first of all in the beautiful Encounter Bay region of South Australia, which is now the State's premier tourist resort, and later on, on the Darling River, not far from Wilcannia, where he prospered sufficiently to enable him to retire to Adelaide with his wife and family.

And there, from a naturally keen observation and a most retentive memory he produced his book, which took him two years to write.

"Paving the Way" immediately achieved a popularity which did not wane. Its success spurred him on to write another novel, "Blood Tracks of the Bush," which is as sanguinary as its name and which stamped the author as a one-novel man.

But in his old age he wrote his memoirs, and these, along with "Paving the Way," form a most valuable section of our pioneering literature. They are unique in this way, that the man who wrote them saw his field from the inception of things until almost the present day.

Simpson Newland was one of those paradoxes, a sickly child who lived to a great old age. It was in his ninetieth year that he laid down his pen after having completed his memoirs, and three weeks later, in June, 1925, he was gathered to his fathers.

South Australians are exceedingly proud of their parent stock. Simpson Newland's father was a descendant of Puritans, a Congregational Minister who migrated, pioneered the land and in between times ministered to a pioneer community of which he was the undisputed leader.

The boy grew up among people whose methods were at first necessarily so primitive that they used oxen, like the ancient Hebrews, to tread out the corn. He saw Riddley's first wheat stripper. He was there when the first steamer went up the Murray. He saw the blacks -- now extinct -- in the pride of their aboriginal life. He saw South Australia grow from nothing to a sovereign State with vast growing wheatfields and a handsome capital city. Every "first" thing in most of the Commonwealth occurred during his life time, and he lived through that devastating war, under whose influence a whole world is still staggering.

Much of his life has gone into "Paving the Way," which in itself is a valuable historical record.

Himself, a great friend and protector of the aborigines, he is forced to write thus of them: "It is pathetic to be thrown among the aboriginals and note how they wither away when brought into contact with the people of our race. It seems to make little difference how kindly they are treated, how well clothed or fed, they tend to die out on the appearance of the white man. Among those I have known, this has been brought about by no epidemic, nor the use of intoxicants, or cold or hunger; none of these have had much to do with it. I can vouch for their being well fed and clothed, and for years spirits were almost entirely kept from them; yet they died off, and the young, the strong and the weakly alike, sometimes with startling suddenness, at others by a wasting sickness of a few days, weeks or months. They have always represented themselves to me as comparatively free from diseases."

When "Paving the Way" first appeared an English critic said that it was evident that the author had never been in Australia. Certainly the critic had not.

These two books, "Paving the Way" and "Memoirs of Simpson Newland" have a value for all time, and are due for a niche in our library of immortals.

First published in The Herald, 5 May 1934

Hardie Grant Books

As the small Australian publishing firm Hardie Grant Books celebrates 10 years in business, Jason Steger of "The Age" profiles the company.

After 10 years, Hardie Grant now has a yearly turnover of about $40 million, with books accounting for 70 per cent of the business. "We think we are the biggest independent publisher in Australia after Allen & Unwin. We are mid-size and that's what we set out to be. We didn't want to be a big player, but we didn't want to lick the stamps ourself," Grant says. Highlights in the 10 years include the spoof travel guides by Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner and Rob Sitch such as Molvania that have been sold round the world and "having a stable business that you don't wake up worrying about in the middle of the night". Like he was doing in the early days.

Australian Books to Film #32 - We of the Never Never


We of the Never Never 1982
Directed by Igor Auzins Screenplay by Peter Schreck, from the novel by Aeneas Gunn
Featuring Angela Punch McGregor, Arthur Dignam, Martin Vaughan, and Lewis Fitz-Gerald

Review: Lilia's Secret by Erina Reddan

lilias_secret.jpg    Erina Reddan
Vintage, 334 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Tineke Hazel

Lilia's Secret is a story about how separation and loss in childhood can affect life later in adulthood.

Maddy, the youngest of seven children, talks about her life on a dairy-farm in a dry sunburnt place somewhere in Australia. Her mother is overwhelmed with work on the farm and looking after seven children. Maddy's father loves her mother dearly and does his best to make life reasonable on this dry and lonely farm, but her mother is so unhappy she leaves the farm and children to go and live with a former boyfriend. Maddy's father is so devastated by his wife leaving him; he can't cope with the unhappiness and hangs himself from a tree in a gully, where he is found by his eldest son. After the funeral Maddy's mother comes back to look after her family. Maddy grows up and marries Andres, a young man from Mexico. She freaks out when he suggests they start a family, as families to her mean total unhappiness. She decides she needs time out to think this over and tells Andres she has to go to Mexico on a business trip, where the major part of the novel takes place.

In the second major strand of the novel, Bill, is a recently retired Boston business tycoon. He was an only child, loved by his parents and appears to be leading a happy family life, until, when he is about ten, his father receives a letter from Lilia, the Mexican widow of his best friend living in Aquasecas. She asks him to come to Mexico to sort out some business matters his late friend left unfinished. He drops everything, including his wife and little son Billy, and goes to Mexico, where he succumbs to the charms of the beautiful and wealthy Lilia de Las Flores. He marries her and a few years later dies under suspicious circumstances. It later emerges that most of Lilias previous five husbands had also died suspiciously.

Bill, now retired and neurotically counting whatever is in sight, finds a letter from his dead father in a box belonging to his dead mother. He decides to go to Aqusecas to see if he can find out what really happened to his father.

Maddy arrives in Mexico and meets Andres's sisters who show her a photo of Lilia de Las Flores who is, she discovers, Andres's great grandmother. She too, goes to Aquasecas to find out if Lilia really did kill her husbands.

Following similar paths, Bill and Maddy get to know each other as each pursue leads to Lilia de Las Flores in their own way.

At this point, the story becomes very involved and convoluted. Keeping the characters apart and meaningful becomes rather difficult. Each new introduced character adds a little more knowledge about Lilia, and slowly the mystery of the deaths of her husbands comes to light.

The use of language gives the characters a gesticulating and restless quality. Maddy's neurotic scratching of her wrist may be a symptom of our modern dysfunctional child but really contributes nothing to the story itself. The same goes for Bill, who counts everything in sight to keep himself grounded, but he never matures despite the fact he gives some of his millions to start a midwifery clinic in Aquasecas.

There is no comfortable rhythm to the story to encourage you on as a reader. There is also no sense of place: there are very few memorable descriptions of Mexico or the countryside they move in.

To sum up, the point of the novel is to tell a story of love and tragedy of a mysterious Mexican woman whose actions influence later generations. The two main characters, Maddie who is a young woman traumatised in her childhood by the mother leaving the family and suicide by hanging of her father, and Bill, the retired business tycoon, traumatised as a boy by his father leaving for Mexico and never coming back, both struggle with the inability to love and be loved. Both learn a little of how to give of themselves but they still have a long way to go.

50th Anniversary of They're a Weird Mob

Humphrey McQueen looks back at 50 years of a novel and the film it spawned:

They're a Weird Mob leapt out of Australian bookstores from November 1957. By Christmas, the first edition of 6000 had sold out. Five reprints followed by the end of February and by 1981, the book had sold half a million copies, making it Australia's best-selling novel.
I have a feeling he's probably talking about Australian sales here. In a recent piece on Neville Shute's On The Beach, Gideon Haigh states that the book sold 100,000 copies in the first 6 weeks. These are world-wide sales and unfortunately Haigh doesn't give any final figures. But you would have to suspect that, at least following the sucess of the subsequent film version, Shute's novel would have passed 500,000. Beyond the sales figures, however, it was the timing of the novel's publication that helped to impinge it on the nation's consciousness.
Weird Mob appeared just after the vernacular had triumphed on stage in Ray Lawler's Summer of the Seventeenth Doll in 1955. O'Grady's prose lacked the vibrancy of Doll's colloquialisms, as in "getting a sea breeze off the gutter". Nor did Weird Mob aspire to the lexical wit of Let Stalk Strine in 1964 from "Professor Affabeck
Lauder" (A. A. Morrison), resplendent in his "gloria soame". Instead, A Weird Mob was "slanguage"-based. "Mate" or "matey" appears on an average of once for each of its 200 pages, on top of a chorus of "Howyergoin' mate orright?". O'Grady confirmed prejudices about the workers' twang -- "ut" for "it" -- at a time when proper people said they voted for Mr Menzies because he spoke so "naicely". That class divide has dissolved. The ABC would not have allowed many of its current presenters to go to air in 1957. Australian English now has a few Italian inflections.
The novel was a product of its times, and, as McQueen puts it: "Today, both novel and subsequent film can seem little more than curiosities. Yet, they offer a place from which to ponder the recasting of our daydreams, and nightmares." As a final note, in the middle of this piece, McQueen states that "O'Grady churned out 17 more novels" after They're a Weird Mob, which I find to be a rather peculiar turn-of-phrase. I know what he's getting at; he's taking a sly shot at what he considers to be O'Grady's hack work. Eighteen novels in 24 years (he died in 1981) doesn't seem all that bad to me. Plenty of novelists these days - especially those that tend to the genre side of the street - produce as much, if not more. Not all of it is of the highest quality, but it is still possible for them to achieve a quite reasonable hit rate. For most of the piece in question McQueen is quite appreciative of O'Grady's pioneering work. And yet he has to take this dig at him without backing it up. Strange.

Weekend Round-Up 2007 #39

The Age

Rachel Hills, who is a regular contributor to an Australian teen magazine, is impressed with Girl Stuff: Your Full-on Guide to the Teen Years by Kaz Cooke: "Born from a survey of more than 4000 girls around Australia (whose remarks are scattered throughout the book), Girl Stuff is a kind of teen magazine omnibus that even the most progressive parents would feel happy to hand to their daughter (socially conservative parents are another matter -- Cooke covers sex and drugs more candidly than most health classes)...As with any coming-of-age guide, don't expect Australia's teens to rush out en masse to buy Girl Stuff, but it is the kind of book most girls will enjoy, read voraciously, and refer to over and over again if given as a gift."

Most of us watching the current Australian Federal election might think that the nation's Christians are attempting to influence some or all of the major parties. But in his review of Margaret Simons's Faith, Money and Power, Barney Zwartz doesn't think so: "The religious influence on Australian politics is nothing like America, where evangelicals have had a powerful, often malign, effect on policy...Meticulously fair and characteristically insightful, her great achievement is to put the Pentecostals in a political and social context. She also gives them a human face, with long narratives and conversations...But even if secularists have little to fear, faith is destined to be part of politics for the foreseeable future. Faith, she writes, is part of the mood of the times in Australia."

Jeff Glorfeld looks at two new Australian crime novels, Eden by Dorothy Johnston and Trick or Treat by Kerry Greenwood. "Johnston writes beautifully, crafting passages of prose that make the reader stop, go back and re-read. But despite these strengths, the story is constricted and oddly lifeless...Unlike Maloney [Johnston's protagonist], Chapman [Greenwood's PI] lives large, with a lusty appetite for good food and good sex. Every meal is a feast and every character is exceptional. Even her three cats are remarkable...Where Johnston's palette is the muted greys of realism, Greenwood splashes hers with bold, melodramatic colours. Chapman is strong-willed and decisive, traits she shares with that other marvellous Greenwood creation, Phryne Fisher."

The Australian

One of the big Australian books of this year will be The Complete Short Stories by David Malouf, and I don't mean just page-count. Geoffrey Lehmann struggles to come to terms with it: "It is not easy reviewing the work of someone whom you have known well, which is my position with David Malouf. You perceive their work through the prism of your personal knowledge." He then recounts a few personal anecdotes before getting down to the business of reviewing the stories in the volume. "Although labelled complete, this book does not have all of Malouf's published stories. This was a good decision. Every story in this book earns its place, in that it has some details that make it worth preserving." And he concludes that "what is remarkable about this epic collection (to quote the jacket) is Malouf's affection for his characters, his openness to different lives and his ability to sustain a lyrical intensity throughout a story."

In his review of Michelle de Kretser's third novel, The Lost Dog, Richard King is worried the author is losing her way. "Clearly, here is an important novel, written by an important novelist. However, it is also a disappointing novel written by an important novelist, and not to say so would not only be dishonest but ultimately unfair to de Kretser." But there are things to savour: "On the whole, the book is exceptionally well written. De Kretser is an excellent narrator and her almost obsessive attention to detail -- the mighty effort of imagination expended on the incidental -- is revealing of a dedication that should serve as a model to younger writers." All in all, though, "De Kretser's fiction would be better served if she could just put textual studies aside and trust her inner storyteller."

Profile of Alexis Wright

In "The New York Times", Jane Perlez introduces Alexis Wright to an American audience. Still no American publisher for Carpentaria at this time.

Despite highly laudatory reviews, Wright's 500-plus-page tale of the tortured relations between blacks and whites in the sparsely populated desert country around the Gulf of Carpentaria in northern Queensland languished on bookstore shelves. With a few exceptions, the independent bookstores run by political liberals, who have often expressed embarrassment at the sorry treatment of Australia's indigenous people, were reluctant to promote it. Too difficult stylistically, said the salespeople at the Macleay Bookshop and Bookoccino, two of Sydney's top literary outlets, where Wright's novel was hard to find in the months after its publication.

But today Carpentaria, published by the small literary house Giramondo after it was rejected by every major publisher in Australia, has become a literary sensation. It is in its sixth printing, with sales of 25,000 copies, far above the usual 2,000 to 3,000 for a literary novel here.

This is pretty rare for the NYT to give this amount of coverage to an Australian writer. Peter Carey might get it, Malouf and Murray maybe. But not many others.

Australian Bookcovers #90 - Illywhacker by Peter Carey


Illywhacker by Peter Carey, 1985
(UQP 1988 edition)
This novel was shortlisted for the 1985 Booker Prize, and won the Victorian Premier's Award and "The Age" Book of the Year Award.

Kathryn Fox Interview

With her third novel, Skin and Bone, out and about, Kathryn Fox is interviewed in "The Courier-Mail" by Samela Harris.

"Of course, in reality, one is not going to like everybody and everybody is not going to like you. I've discovered this with readers."

Internet feedback, it seems, is sometimes hard to take. Fox calls them the "armchair critics" who, liberated by anonymity, ping off gratuitous bursts of email venom.

Some crime readers are fixed in their tastes, obsessively loyal to their favourite writers . . . or so Fox explains.

It is clear she feels stung.

But she is not striving to emulate anyone and, possessed of a generous spirit, feels no territorial imperative on the creative scene. She believes in a more-the-merrier of crime fiction, a world which encompasses Patricia Cornwell, P.D. James, Sara Paretsky -- and Kathryn Fox.

Reviews of Australian Books #67

Donna Rifkind reviews Janette Turner Hospital's latest novel Orpheus Lost, for the "LA Times": "Although she often follows the conventions of modern international conspiracy thrillers, Hospital is as consumed with the cultural past as she is with the topical present. Due Preparations for the Plague ricocheted with echoes of Defoe, Camus and Boccaccio as it chronicled the ongoing political and psychological fallout of an imagined 1987 terrorist hijacking. This reconnaissance into the storehouses of artistic tradition and the trenches of fearful contemporary life is even more expertly accomplished in Orpheus Lost."

If we all keep going on like this Shaun Tan is going to be voted some high political office he is certainly not seeking. "The New York Times" has now starting singing his praises with a review by Gene Luan Yang, who shows some detailed knowledge of his past work: "Tan has been walking the fine line between picture books and graphic novels for years now. The Rabbits (2003), written by John Marsden, has a fight montage that reads like a comic, using panels and captions to advance the action. And The Lost Thing (2004), both written and illustrated by Tan, could also be classified as a graphic novel. Although the story's prose bears almost all the narrative responsibility, the interplay between text and image, and the paneled layouts, foreshadow Tan's eventual headlong leap into the medium of comics. With The Arrival, Tan the graphic novelist has finally arrived....Reading The Arrival feels like paging through a family treasure newly discovered up in the attic. However, the sheer beauty of Tan's artwork sometimes gets in the way of his narrative. His panels, like the best photographs, capture the timelessness of particular moments, which can inadvertently endanger the illusion of time passing that a graphic novelist strives to create. The Arrival would almost rather be looked at than read."

Mireille Juchau, an Australian writer with whom I am not familiar, has her second novel published. On the "PopMatters" website, Ella Mudie looks at Burning In from Giromondo Press, a "remarkable second novel from up and coming Australian writer Mireille Juchau, takes what's admittedly familiar territory, an aspiring antipodean artist moves overseas, and applies a psychological insight so penetrating the novel actually succeeds in illuminating the dilemma in some surprisingly fresh, and by equal turns disturbing, new ways...Her first novel Machines for Feeling drew praise for being freshly imaginative and poetic and Burning In seems consistent with that work. Its themes, though, are in line with those shared by many young Australian artists and writers today. The themes are a feeling of homelessness in the world, which is made even more intense through the experience of travel. This anxiety over belonging and identity is surely a universal experience and can't be claimed as being uniquely Australian. However the geographical isolation of the country does explain why the preoccupation persists, sometimes annoyingly, in so much of the work produced there."

Matthew Reilly Interview

In "The Sydney Morning Herald", Ray Cassin interviews Matthew Reilly, one of Australia's best-selling novelists, as his new novel Six Sacred Stone, is published for the Christmas market.

"What I do is write books for an audience that thinks in a movie language," Reilly says. "That's the way I think and I also believe that not enough authors keep up with the audience.

"Since Seven Wonders came out [in 2005] we've had shows such as 'House' on TV and before that 'CSI'. "Those two shows, and especially 'CSI', are of movie-quality every week. 'CSI' has close-ups, long shots, dissolves. It's got a movie language.

"I think the audience is watching 'CSI' and 'House' closely and they assimilate information quickly. If I had Jack West, for example, jumping onto the wing of a plane and maybe his grip is slipping and his hand is sweaty and you can see the fingernails scraping. I can describe that in either a close-up or a long shot.

"I am writing for what I believe is the way this ever more-sophisticated audience is thinking. So I reject the notion that I'm writing the books so they can be turned into films. I'm writing them for an audience that thinks in terms of films." Reilly consciously distinguishes himself from other thriller writers because he writes in this way.

Poem: The Pannikin Poet by "The B." (A.B. "Banjo" Paterson)

There's nothing here sublime,
But just a roving Rhyme,
Run off to pass the time,
   With nought titanic in
The theme that it supports,
And, though it treats of quarts,
It's bare of golden thoughts --
   It's just a pannikin.

I think it's rather hard
That each Australian bard --
Each wan, poetic card --
   With thoughts galvanic in
His fiery soul alight,
In wild aerial flight,
Will sit him down and write
   About a pannikin.

He makes some new-chum fare
From out his English lair
To hunt the native bear,
   That curious mannikin;
And then when times get bad
That wand'ring English lad
Writes out a message sad
   Upon his pannikin:

"Oh, mother, think of me
Beneath the wattle tree
(For you may bet that he
   Will drag the wattle in)
"Oh, mother, here I think
That I shall have to sink
There ain't a single drink
   The watter-bottle in."

The dingo homeward hies,
The sooty crows uprise
And caw their fierce surprise
   A tone Satanic in;
And bearded bushmen tread
Around the sleepers' head --
"See here -- the bloke is dead."
   "Now where's his pannikin."

They read his words and weep,
And lay him down to sleep
Where wattle-branches sweep
   A style mechanic in;
And, reader, that's the way
The poets of to-day
Spin out their little lay
   About a pannikin.

First published in The Bulletin, 28 May 1892

TV Adaptation of Animalia by Graeme Base

In the middle of a profile of "Photon VFX, one of Australia's most innovative visual effects companies and the stomping ground for its founder, Dale Duguid", by Jonathan Nash, comes the news that the company has created an animated TV series based on Animalia by Graeme Base. The 40-episode series is being shown on Channel 10, and made its debut on November 11.

Best Books of the Year 2007 #3 - Amazon

Amazon have released their Best Books of 2007 list. It's interesting to note that 3 Australian books made the Amazon editors' list, and all appear in the Teens section:

The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks

Matthew Condon Profile

Following on from her profile of Venero Armanno that I linked to yesterday, Rosemary Sorenson also talks to Matthew Condon as his new novel, The Trout Opera, hits the shelves.

Condon's generation -- which includes Tim Winton, Kate Grenville, Gillian Mears, Nick Earls and Venero Armanno -- were the first wave to benefit from the push to publish more young Australian writers generated by the success of The Australian/Vogel Award. But Condon believes his path may have been muddied somewhat by those same enthusiasms.

"It's taken me 20-odd years to understand writing is a bloody hard job," he says. "It's not easy to move forward and still maintain the standard of quality. People think they're just going to bowl in and that's it for the next 40 years, but you can't stop working at it."

Stage Adaptation of The Turning by Tim Winton

"The Age" is reporting, in the middle of a piece about the 2008 Perth International Arts Festival (PIAF), that a stage production of Tim Winton's The Turning is being developed. And "The West Australian" has this to say:

PIAF also has commissioned a major independent WA stage adaptation of Tim Winton's best-selling book The Turning as its first project of its new Tales of the West series. "There was an intention to try to invest this year in bringing a West Australian voice into the program," [new artistic director Shelagh] Magadza said.

Australian Books to Film #31 - Turtle Beach


Turtle Beach 1992
Directed by Stephen Wallace
Screenplay by Ann Turner, from the novel by Blanche D'Alpuget
Featuring Greta Scacchi, Joan Chen, Jack Thompson and Art Malik

Weekend Round-Up 2007 #38

The Age

It's just my luck that the weekend I'm away from home, "The Age" decides to run reviews of more Australian books that it has for about six months. Mumble, mumble. So, rather than just skip last week's reviews, I've decided to combine two weeks' worth into one. Probably explains why it's so late in the week.

Carmel Bird looks at The Trout Opera by Matthew Condon: "This is a grand novel with the scope of opera. The structure is seductive, shifting confidently from character to character, from one age to another, back and forth as the stories reveal themselves, as the lives move in tandem, cross, head for focal points, rise and fall. The geographical location is the Snowy River town of Dalgety...The "Trout Opera" itself, as performed in 1906, is also a glowing set-piece of very moving prose that sets in motion this vast and magnificently Australian saga of one man's life on the Snowy in the now receding 20th century."

Juliette Hughes finds that Peter Doherty is a great story-teller in A Light History of Hot Air: "Doherty is a vivid raconteur who can tell a story with an amusing twist, as well as ones that are more in the style of a campfire ghost tale. Scary stories abound, yet we are in the safest of hands here, with a Nobel prize-winning scientist guiding us like Virgil through mythical hells ino the light of reason...Peter Doherty has the kind of mind that travels along many different pathways, taking each distraction and diversion as an opportunity to explore."

Peter Pierce is not overly impressed with Blood Kin by Geridwen Dovey: "...the novel seems to be a political commentary, deft and dead-pan, if hardly given to deep insights, no more than the revelation of ruthlessness, expediency, desperation, hunger for power."

Katharine England examines Steven Carroll's The Lovers' Room, which is a revision of his 1994 novel Momoko, and wonders if the whole exercise is just a little too neat: "While non-fiction writers may regularly update and republish their work, it is rare for a novelist to do likewise, so it was intriguing to read that Steven Carroll intended to revise his 1994 novel Momoko...There is always more, however, to Carroll than first meets the eye - as is clear from the fine, reflective, suburban trilogy beginning with The Art of the Engine Driver produced between his two versions of Momoko's story - and the new title, The Lovers' Room, draws attention to a philosophical underpinning that was formerly less clearly articulated."

Any novel release by Alex Miller is going to be a major literary event in Australia as he is a two-time winner of the Miles Franklin Award. His latest, Landscape of Farewell, is reviewed by Lisa Gorton: "Alex Miller's novels combine to an unusual degree realism and inwardness. In fact, you could argue that his novels extend the tradition of English ghost stories: The Woman in White and Wuthering Heights; even The Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. The past haunts Miller's characters and his stories puzzle out the mystery of that haunting. They are strange, extreme novels. Yet, in the ghost story tradition, Miller creates narrators whose detached intelligence holds these fantastical elements in a close and precisely imagined world...Landscape of Farewell gathers up some of the interests that have shaped some of Miller's novels: The Ancestor Game, Journey to the Stone Country and Prochownik's Dream. It teases out how the past makes itself present in the relationship between fathers and sons; it works to define what art takes from people's lives, and what it gives. In some ways, Landscape of Farewell seems to test how these questions might look to an old man."

The Australian

Ex-NSW Premier Bob Carr enjoys Colleen McCullough's Antony and Cleopatra: "McCullough's details of feasts, journeys and battles convince the reader they are walking the quaysides and the forums of Rome's Mediterranean world, crossing
mountains with armies and making deals with client-kings. The sieges are not the trial they became in Fortunes Favourites (1993); the narrative runs strong and the subject remains power throughout. Who will rule? It is the basic question of politics and these works, and the reason McCullough is listed for reading by US Foreign Service officers in training and admired by Henry Kissinger. Much contemporary fiction is rendered trivial by comparison."

Kerryn Goldsworthy is quite taken by Australian Classics: 50 Great Books by Jane Gleeson-White: "Australian Classics is quite an unusual book: it's not an anthology but a thorough readers' guide, a kind of photographic negative of an anthology. In this follow-up to her 2005 Classics: Books for Life, Gleeson-White has chosen an Australian list of 50 great books (although this subheading is immediately problematic, as some of her chosen books are single poems and others are individual short stories) that she thinks will provide this overview...On each of the 50 works chosen, she writes a short, lucid, informative essay, plus 10 extra such essays on various background topics and issues, such as the Ern Malley affair, the Sydney Push and the glory days of The Bulletin in the late 19th century. She provides simple, clearly put plot summaries, biographical information about the authors and interesting scraps of anecdote and information...This kind of thing is surprisingly difficult to write and make interesting -- or, sometimes, even to make coherent -- and it's to her great credit that she has made this book so easy and engaging to read." Looks like the Christmas present for me then.

Liam Davison is very impressed with Matthew Condon's The Trout Opera: "As spectacle it's hard to beat the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympics. If anyone thought nationalism was spent, the whole singing, dancing, horse-riding performance proved it was alive and kicking...Now the Olympic ceremony has spawned its own novel; not a horse opera, but Matthew Condon's bold and impressive The Trout Opera. Ten years in the making, it is a big ambitious work, equally ardent in its celebration of nationhood but willing also to switch the focus forward to reveal the seamier underbelly of the myth...Condon's spectacle is a marvellous achievement. Epic in scope, it is written out of a deeply felt love for Australia and genuine anxiety for its future. His writing is strong and assured."


"harvest" is a new magazine starting up out of Melbourne, with the byline of "a literary quarterly for literate quarters", which pretty much sums it up. Their submission deadline for the first issue is November 30, but as they talk a lot about submission guidelines and submitting proposals for work it might be a bit too late to get into this first issue. This first issue is due for publication in March 2008. Subscription details will also be released in the new year.

[Link via HorrorScope.]

Best Books of the Year 2007 #2 - New York Times

It's all go for Shaun Tan at present as his latest book, The Arrival, is chosen as one of "The New York Times" Best Children's Illustrated Books of the Year. The link takes you to a slideshow of the books nominated. Tan's is about 3rd or 4th in.

Venero Armanno Profile

Rosemary Sorenson profiles Venero Armanno in "The Australian" as his latest novel, The Dirty Beat, is published by University of Queensland Press.

One of his novels, The Volcano, took 10 years to complete and none of his other six books had the almost uncannily easy transition to the page that he found with The Dirty Beat. This one, he believes, came gushing out of him as though the two words, dirty beat, had opened a dam he'd closed up all those years ago, when he turned away from [his university band].

"It came out so fast because behind it was 25 years of not talking about it, of not wanting to confront the thing," Armanno says. "We had actually thought we were building something and when it became apparent we weren't getting anywhere it hurt so much. We had tried hard with that creative thing, and I genuinely loved the guys, but after the end of the band I didn't see them again. I don't think I could face it, so I had to deny it all."

2007 International Horror Guild Award Winners

The winners of the 2007 International Horror Guild Awards were announced on November 1 during the World Fantasy Convention. Will Elliott was nominated for The Pilo Family Circus in the Best Novel Category, but lost out to The Unblemished by Conrad Williams. Terry Dowling was nominated for his short story "Cheat Light", and, while that story didn't win, Terry did tie for the award in the Best Collection (Single Author) Category for his collection Basic Black.

Eric Rolls (1923 - 2007)

Eric Rolls, author of A Million Wild Acres, has died at the age of 84.

Rolls wrote poetry and non-fiction works for both adults and children across a long career. His best-known work, A Million Wild Acres: 200 Years of Man and an Australian Forest, won "The Age" Book of the Year Award in 1981, and the National Book Council Award for Australian Literature in 1982. According to the Australian Online Bookshop, the book "is the story of men and their passion for land; of occupation and settlement; of destruction and growth. By following the tracks of those pioneers who crossed the Blue Mountains into northern New South Wales, Eric Rolls -- poet, farmer, and self-taught naturalist -- has rewritten the history of European settlement in Australia. He evokes the ruthlessness and determination of the first settlers who worked the land - a land they knew little about."

Rolls was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1992.

The Inkys

On the "Read Alert" weblog, the winners of the Inky Awards have been announced.

Golden Inky
Notes from the Teenage Underground, Simmone Howell (Pan Macmillan)

Silver Inky
Looking for Alaska, John Green (HarperCollins)

The Inky awards are readers' choice awards, organised by the State Library of Victoria, where voters must be under the age of 25. The Golden Inky is awarded to an Australian book, and the Silver to a book from an international writer. Indications are that this will now become an annual event.

Sean Williams Interview

Adelaide science fiction writer Sean Williams is interviewed by Tobias Buckell on the "Clarkesworld Magazine" website.

Harlan Ellison gave a talk to a bunch of people in Canberra back in the 1990s in which he described the scene then as a Golden Age of Australian speculative fiction. If it was gold then, I don't know what it is now. Platinum, perhaps, or something even more precious. The scene has really exploded in the last decade, with so many new writers coming up the ranks and so many of us old pros selling overseas that it's very difficult now to remember what it was like when I first started. Then, you could've counted the number of US sales on a couple of hands. Now, there are established writers like Sara Douglass, Greg Egan, Garth Nix, Trudi Canavan, and Lian Hearn continuing their already successful careers, with relatively new names like Karen Miller, Joel Shepherd and Justine Larbalestier bursting onto the world stage behind them. It's a very exciting time, whatever you call it.

2007 Davitt Awards Winners

The winners of the 2007 Davitt Awards have been announced. These awards are presented by the Australian chapter of Sisters in Crime and honour works in the crime genre, written by Australian women. This year's winners were:

Best True Crime and Readers' Choice
Silent Death: The Killing of Julie Ramage by Karen Kissane

Best Adult Crime
Undertow by Sydney Bauer

Best Young Adult Crime
The Betrayal of Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty

Readers' Choice
Karen Kissane, and Devil's Food by Kerry Greenwood

Angela Savage was at the awards' presentation night and gives an account of what she saw there on her blog.

Australian Bookcovers #89 - The Great Shame by Tom Keneally


The Great Shame by Tom Keneally, 1998
(Random House 1998 edition)

Christopher Koch Profile

Jason Steger profiles Christopher Koch in "The Age" on the eve of the publication of his new novel, The Memory Room.

The only secret life Koch has is his writing. Without that it would be difficult for him to function. "All writers are obviously neurotic; this is an absurd occupation. And I think it begins very early. For various reasons, writers retreat into an imaginary world because they find ordinary life rather difficult or boring or both."

2007 Patrick White Award

David Rowbotham has been announced as the winner of the 2007 Patrick White Award. The award was established in 1974 by Patrick White in order to honour those writers who had not received their "due recognition".

Previous winners of the award can be found on the relevant Wikipedia page.

Best Books of the Year 2007 #1 - Publisher's Weekly

"Publisher's Weekly" is first out of the blocks this year with its list of 2007's Best Books. I've named this entry "#1" as I suspect we'll be seeing quite a lot of these in the coming weeks.

Australian books on the list:
Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks "A web of criminal machinations infiltrates every aspect of an impossibly brilliant boy's life in this thoroughly entertaining and engrossing novel."
Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan "Rarely do YA readers find such uniformly strong short fiction as in Lanagan's dark and provocative fantasy collection of 10 stories, striking for their beautiful, quirky language and deep psychological insight."
The Complete Stories by David Malouf "Australia's stark landscapes are at the harsh, violent center of a career's worth of Malouf's fictions, where relationships enter uncharted territory."
The Arrival by Shaun Tan "This startling wordless tale chronicles an immigrant's attempt to build a new life through lush, sepia-toned illustrations of an enigmatic alternate universe."

2008 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

The extremely long longlist of novels nominated for the 2008 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award has been announced. The Australian nominees that I've noticed are as follows:

Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey
The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan
Dreams of Speaking by Gail Jones
Underground by Andrew McGahan
Careless by Deborah Robertson
Carpentaria by Alexis Wright

There are 137 novels nominated so it is possible that I missed some. Dublin City Council will announce the shortlist on 2nd April 2008 and the winning novel will be announced by the Lord Mayor on 12th June 2008. The prize is worth 100,000 Euros.

2007 World Fantasy Awards

The winners of the 2007 World Fantasy Awards have been announced, and Shaun Tan won the award for Best Artist. In related matters, there are very lively discussions underway in sf circles at present regarding whether Tan's The Arrival can be considered a work of fiction - and if so which category - or non-fiction for next year's Hugo Awards. I'd suggest it is very likely he will appear on the ballot somewhere.

Matilda Waltzes

I fly interstate with the family tomorrow for a week's holiday, so there will be no postings on
this weblog until November 11 or 12. See you then.

Reviews of Australian Books #66

Ursula K Le Guin reviews Heaven's Net is Wide by Lian Hearn in "The Guardian", and finds it a satisfying historical fantasy. "My interest in her Japanese saga became personal as I discovered its nature, since I too have written imaginary history (set in central Europe), have been caught in the strangling noose of genre authorship, and have refused to accept condescending notions of genre quality. My sympathy is strongly with her on all counts...A lucid and pleasant style, a beautifully realised setting, action and romance played out across a couple of generations, a high-class voyage to the long ago and far away -- Lian Hearn has written a saga that will continue to give pleasure to many."

Jessica Mann tackles the same book in "The Telegraph", and is equally as impressed: "the setting is beautiful and beautifully described, and the story clicks into place perfectly, not an afterthought but an indispensable introduction to a remarkable saga. I was spurred into re-reading the whole thing. It was pure pleasure."

On the "SubversiveVoices" weblog, Doug wonders if Carpentaria by Alexis Wright might a Great Australian Novel: "It is a big novel - big in all the senses that Tim Winton's novel Cloudstreet is big - length wise, in its tackling of large subjects and in its portrayal of the physical landscape and sea as vivid characters in their own right...I am still trying to put my finger on why I kept thinking of Winton's writing, particularly in Cloudstreet as I got totally aborbed in Wright's book. Probably the connection is that in their different ways Wright and Winton refuse to allow the material world to be disconnected from the world of spirit."

Angela Meyer reviews Australian books for "Bookseller + Publisher" magazine, and reprints her review of Matthew Condon's novel, The Trout Opera, on her weblog: "[the] characters and others come together in a vividly descriptive and masterfully constructed narrative with questions about personal and collective history, the potency of place, and the disturbance and rapidity of change. The novel honours simplicity, substance, and peace, and laments the loss of closeness in a moment of quiet. An insightful, brilliant Australian novel, destined to become a classic. For fans of literary Australian fiction."

Ford St Publishing is a new publishing house formed by writer and editor Paul Collins. One of the first books to emerge from the company is Sean McMullen's Before the Storm, a young adult time travel fantasy that uses the opening of Australian first parliament in 1901 as its pivotal history point.

Sue Bursztynski has a look at the book on her weblog, "The Great Raven": "Sean McMullen is best-known for his adult science fiction; most of his books have become international bestsellers. In his first book for young people, the Quentaris novel Ancient Hero, he showed that he has considerable ability in writing for younger readers. With Before The Storm, he's confirmed he can do it and it's to be hoped that he will continue along this route and write some more YA fiction. The universes of his adult books are highly complex and they require a lot of concentration to read, but when writing for children or teens, a writer needs to refine his or her universe and tell a story that the young reader can enjoy without having to worry about complexities. In this one, and the previous story, Mr McMullen has shown he can keep his story simple and keep it going."

Clive James Watch #1

A couple of weeks back I started a "J.M. Coetzee Watch" segment as I seemed to be finding quite a number of references to that writer turing up on the web. The only other Australian writer at present that continually appears on a number of websites is Clive James. This is probably mainly due to this year's publication of Cultural Amnesia, which has given a lot of commentators lots of material. But he's also out and about on
his own.

James's major recent book review is of Philip Roth's latest novel, Exit Ghost, in "The New York Times". He finds the novel "is just too fascinating to leave alone. It was designed that way, like the Tar Baby. Actually -- leaving aside all questions about authorial identity for the moment -- this book is latter-day Roth at his intricately thoughtful best, and a vivid reminder of why a dystopian satirical fantasy like The Plot Against America was comparatively weak. Roth has no business making up the world. His business is making up his mind, in the sense that his true material for inventing a pattern is self-exploration, not social satire...Exit Ghost. Great title. The book of a great writer. A great book? Maybe it's just another piece of a puzzle. A great puzzle, and true to life in being so."

In the "Times Literary Supplement", James returns to his glory days with a review of "British Film Forever", a television program aired recently on the BBC. Reading it, you get the distinct impression that James has seen every British film ever made, and has an opinion on each and every one of them. Just what you want from a reviewer: knowledge, and the wit to know when and how to use it. "The most glaring self-deception was a persistent failure to follow the money. The director John Boorman once said that film turns money into light. In cinema, money might not be everything, but it is always the first thing...There never was then, and still isn't, a reservoir of finance within Britain to sustain a film industry without a pipeline to the American market. Korda's productive heyday lasted for a while, and Michael Balcon's for a while longer, but without one eye on America nobody can last indefinitely: the true wording of British Film Forever should have been "British Film Sporadically". This was the biggest theme demanding to be treated by a documentary survey of the history of British film. Its almost complete absence guaranteed that the commentary could not be serious; so we got sprightliness instead."

As the subject rather than the viewer, James is interviewed by Rob Blackhurst in "The Financial Times". It's down to the success of Cultural Amnesia in America of course: "At 68, James has finally reached the age that he has looked for the past 20 years. He's still heavy-set and paunchy but gone are the tight television suits that he used to be funnelled into like an overgrown schoolboy, or Alexei Sayle. These days, with his dark-rimmed specs and existentialist uniform of black shirt and trousers, he could pass for a professor of English literature. "Previous interviewers, expecting to meet a sun-drenched larrikin, have been disappointed to find James in a state of wintry pessimism. Today, perhaps, because he's fed up with being portrayed, in his words, as a 'self-questioning, paranoid sad-sack', he's doing a fine impersonation of a man who is giddily upbeat."

On the "Autopilot" weblog, Murph probably nails the real reason why Cultural Amnesia is so successful and accessible: "I don't have a lot of use for the café bound philosopher/writer, and I while I enjoyed what little philosophy I did study there's no way I would ever persevere to be a truly 'deep' thinker. Many of the people James discusses in this book were, and had all the vices and weaknesses common to their species. They did not have happy lives, were riddled with insecurities, and several even committed suicide. People like Anna Akhmatova, Egon Friedell, and Paul Celan. "Were I to meet any of these people, there would be instant and mutual distain. Somehow James manages to present these people in their element. He proudly shows you their moment of greatness -- no matter how brief -- or damns them for their failings, no matter their reputation. "Somehow, in James' hands, these people are always interesting."

Australian Books to Film #30 - Puberty Blues


Puberty Blues 1981
Directed by Bruce Beresford
Screenplay by Margaret Kelly, from the novel by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette
Featuring Nell Schofield, Jad Capelja, Geoff Rhoe and Tony Hughes

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